Tuesday, June 1, 2010

License and Registration Please, Mr Reporter

Sen. Bruce Patterson (R-Canton) from Michigan has introduced legislation to license reporters (also discussed here) in Michigan:
Senator Bruce Patterson is introducing legislation that will regulate reporters much like the state does with hairdressers, auto mechanics and plumbers. Patterson, who also practices constitutional law, says that the general public is being overwhelmed by an increasing number of media outlets--traditional, online and citizen generated--and an even greater amount misinformation.
The legislation is SB 1323. I cannot think that this will pass muster, and I cannot imagine that a Republican who studies constitutional law is proposing this legislation. Is it unfortunate that so much misinformation is out there? Sure. Will requiring that some one have a journalism degree stop that problem? No. In my experience, people with a degree and experience in journalism can just as easily not "know what they’re talking about" while covering the state legislature.

To qualify for registration, the reporter would have to be of good moral character, demonstrate knowlegde of acceptable industry ethics standards, possess a degree of journalism (or equivalent), have no less than 3 years experience, possess awards or recognition for being a reporter, submit writing samples, and a letter of recommendation. This seems like a move that would try to benefit a foundering "mainstream" media which is losing readers, viewers, etc. to alternative forms of media, such as blogs, vlogs, non-profit web newspapers, etc.

This would not prevent alternative media from covering politics, but it would basically be a "good housekeeping seal of approval" given by the legislature (but do you really trust the legislature?).

Is it frustrating that people can so easily disseminate misinformation or just simple errors? Absolutely. But we're in a new era of media coverage, and politicians have to adapt. We cannot create laws which focus on the old style of journalism when so many people are turning to alternative sources. Instead of registering reporters, cultivate sources for the blogs, create your own social media sites to get out information directly, etc.

What's intriguing is under the requirements set forth under the bill, many of the people who covered politics in the nation's early newspapers - e.g., Phillip Freneau and James Callender, or perhaps, even Benjamin Franklin - would not be registered. Their papers were purely partisan affairs filled with misinformation. However, the Founders did not seek to license and regulate reporters (though some times they did seek to prosecute). And I doubt men like Thomas Jefferson - who also had much to say about the abuses of newspapers (to which he was subject) - would agree with Sen. Patterson's attempt:
"It is so difficult to draw a clear line of separation between the abuse and the wholesome use of the press, that as yet we have found it better to trust the public judgment, rather than the magistrate, with the discrimination between truth and falsehood. And hitherto the public judgment has performed that office with wonderful correctness." --Thomas Jefferson to M. Pictet, 1803.

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